Posts Tagged Leslie Martinson

The Four Immigrants – Play Review


Image result for theatreworks four immigrants“We are the four immigrants” thus begins entirely engaging and ravishingly gorgeous musical, at Theatreworks Silicon Valley premiere, at Palo Alto’s Lucie Stern Theatre. Playwright and composer, Min Kahng adapted the theatrical production from a comic book by Henry Kiyama and tells the story of new immigrants from Japan from 52 comic strips, beginning in 1904.

Unlike the European immigrants who landed on the East coast, often fleeing religious persecution, the immigrants from Asia came for new opportunities and to realize the American dream “I’ll break the mold and make my mark”. While the immigrants from Europe encountered discrimination along the lines of poverty, new immigrants from Asia also had to deal with racial prejudice.

Image result for theatreworks four immigrantsThis musical tells a universal tale of people leaving their homeland for any number of reasons and then search to find a life and make a home in the new land. The musical speaks of such adventures of four men, Charlie (Hansel Tan), Fred (Sean Fenton), Frank (Phil Wong), and Henry (James Seol). These are four incredibly talented actors who deliver a stunning performance of riveting dances and engaging lyrics as they talk about their experiences; weaving in significant historical events like devastating San Francisco earthquake, US Government call to join the military in world war II, racial bias and Government denial to grant citizenship, even to war veterans.  These men also have obligations back home and from time to time experience the guilt and shame of not rising up to expectations; for instance, when they fail to send money home in a timely manner.  Search for a life partner often raises questions about areas where immigrants are tied to known customs and traditions and where these collude in their simultaneous quest to embrace the modern ways of new homeland.

Gradually, these young men in Henry Kiyama’s comic strip mature and make a life in their new homeland. They each in their own way, embraces and blends the old and the new. Whilst they began with sweeping floors and making sacrifices, they learn that not only they can enjoy the fruits of their hard work but their new homeland requires them to be engaged members in the community; standing up for and demanding their rights. They sing with satisfaction, “I know I have something remarkable to share with the world”. We also learn that motherland is never forgotten, as we hear them sing with longing, “Kurusato”.

Image result for theatreworks four immigrantsGreat kudos to Leslie Martinson for brilliant directing and casting. Four male actors are joined by Rinabeth Apostol, Kerry K Carnahan, Catherine Gloria and Lindsay Hirata who play a variety of male and female roles with aplomb. Also great kudos for superb use of props and stage to Marcy Victoria Reed and Christina Larson.

As the founding director of Theatreworks, Robert Kelley has announced his retirement after 50 years of dedicated stewardship, we must acknowledge the incredibly bold and perception changing performances that have been brought to stage under his helm.  Such an incredibly warm influence to counter the current cold reality of increasingly anti-global, anti-immigrant, anti-environment, anti-diversity vibes coming from Washington D.C.  True to Theatreworks’ core values, these phenomenal productions are not only fabulously entertaining, they also gently guide us to learn and be better informed, to embrace diversity and to shift our point of view to one that is more global and more inclusive.

For this theater season, I am selecting, “The Four Immigrants” running at www.theatreworks.org till August 6, 2017 a must-watch-play of this theater season. In true spirit of Silicon Valley where the production took shape, it is extremely innovative, highly entertaining, solidly engaging and brilliantly done.

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“Calligraphy” – Play Review


Playwright Velina Hasu Houston’s “Calligraphy”, currently running at www.theatreworks.org  at Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto, directed by Leslie Martinson, is a complex family drama that tests dynamic family bonds from multiple angles.

Image result for theatreworks, calligraphyFirst, there are two cousins, one American, Hiromi (Mia Tagano), daughter of Japanese mother and African American WWII veteran, Eamon (William Thomas Hodgson) and the other, Sayuri (Elizabeth Pan) are dealing with challenges of caring for their respective aging mothers with physical problems ranging from limb fracture to Alzheimer’s to emotional issues like over-dependance. Second, intermingled with these challenges are cultural issues.  Third, while traditional Japanese culture is steeped in family obligations, and generational rules of etiquette mired in feelings of guilt, there is also an overlay of younger generations growing up with vastly different and sometimes Western values. Hiromi is raised by Japanese mother Noriko (Emily Kuroda) in America, albeit with Japanese values, and considers it her filial duty to take care of her mother in old age.  Meanwhile her cousin Sayuri is raised by her Japanese mother Natsuko (Jeanne Sakata) in Japan. Although Natsuko raises Sayuri with strict Japanese values, colored by external influences, Sayuri rebels and pursues Western attire as well as values of independence and freedom.  And finally, these cultural influences collide in interesting ways with individual personalities and temperament of the colorful characters.

Image result for theatreworks, calligraphyWhen the cousins Hiromi and Sayuri plan to arrange a family reunion of sorts and bring their mothers together after the distance of several  years and different continents, the cultural, generational, relational, and personality collisons occur with a noticeable bang. The two elderly sisters have been bitterly estranged over Noriko’s romance with a black GI and they have not since reconciled. Noriko was a beautiful young woman, married the love of her life, raised a responsible daughter and now afflicted with beginnings of Alzheimer’s, she often imagines the presence of her late husband, Eamon, forgets her whereabouts, but often remembers critical details of her childhood.  Meanwhile Natsuko is as intolerant of her wayward daughter’s choices regarding her filial duty, marriage, sex etc. as she was of her sister’s choice of marriage, years ago. And yet despite the intolerance and the drama, Natsuko too has a certain inner strength and a vision to live life on her own terms.

Within artful strokes of “Calligraphy”, these four beautiful women with their unique version of inner strength, stamp their own signature in their world, with bold strokes of personal choices. Calligraphy is not a play about A significant event but about high emotional stakes of ordinary living and these get amplified with beautiful acting by talented cast. I love Mia Tagano in all the diverse roles I have seen her perform. Kudos to Theatreworks Artistic Director, Robert Kelley for enabling ordinary life issues to take the form of art. Calligraphy will be running till March 29, 2017.  For tickets, go to www.theatreworks.org .

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The Great Pretender – Play Review


“I feel I have hit bottom and then a trap door opens and I go further down and find another way to be sad”.  Mr. Felt (Steve Brady) is the host of iconic children’s TV program and is struggling with the loss of his wife and longtime puppeteer partner.  He has lost his enthusiasm and is contemplating retirement.  Show’s director, Tom (Michael Storm) has other ideas.  He wants to continue the show and he brings in a new puppeteer Jodi (Sarah Moser) to replace Mr. Felt’s wife, and to work the puppet, Francis.

In addition to being nervous, Jodi could not measure up to the role and fill in the big shoes of the original person.  However, Mr. Felt devotes a weekend to train Jodi in little nuances of puppet show, and Jodi turns out to be a great student.  Mr. Felt also feels rejuvenated, and he develops a close bond with Jodi.  After Jodi’s training, they are ready to share her skills with the Director Tom, and fellow puppeteer, Carol (Suzanne Grodner).  Mr. Felt was not prepared for the reaction from Carol.

moose

moose (Photo credit: Genista)

It becomes apparent that this close knit team had much work to do, when it came to dealing with the loss of the team member, wife, and a close friend.  They could not simply put back the pieces, replace the old team member with a new one, and move on.  They needed to work through their grief, their anger and sadness, feel it, share it, mourn, cry, and rejoice in the happy memories, before letting go and moving on.

The show too must go on.  However, it does not have to go on as it always did in the past, pretending that there wasn’t a major upheaval, a huge crisis, and a deep loss, that the team was dealing with.  Can this moment of crisis be an opportunity to get real with the little members of its fan club, the children?

Great kudos to the Artistic Director, Robert Kelley, for continuing to expand the perspectives of the audience, through the medium of live theater.  Writer, David West Read has written a simple story, that has much depth and combines comedy and tragedy, that mirrors life.  Director, Stephen Brackett has done a fabulous job in helping it come alive, on stage.  As always Stage Manager, Jamie D. Mann has done a superb job in creating TV set, complete with clappy closet and Carol’s (the puppet) barn.

wpid-20140712_222938-1.jpgSpecial credits to the Casting Director, Leslie Martinson, and extremely talented cast, who not only played their roles, but played the roles of the puppets, and/or relating to the puppets, in that it seemed like it was a talented cast of seven, Steve Brady, Suzanne Grodner, Michael Storm, Sarah Moser, Carol, Francis, and Meatball Moose, (eight, counting Mr. Felt’s wife) .  What a treat!!

Do not miss the show; it is good for the laughs and good for the soul.  “The Great Pretender” will be running at Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto, till August 3, 2014 and tickets can be available at http://www.theatreworks.com.

 

 

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Warrior Class – Play Review


Political aspirations may originate in idealism, but at its core, politics is a bloody sport.   At the heart of the crafty tale of political maneuverings and machinations in nationally known playwright Kenneth Lin’s “Warrior Class”, is Julius Lee, son of Chinese immigrants, running for Congress, as the Republican Obama.  He is a practicing Christian, a decorated marine with Harvard Law Review credentials, and his inspiring speech has created a huge sensation and gotten the party excited. Young, charismatic, and highly marketable as Lee is, “Nobody’s as clean as they want to be”, says his campaign consultant, Nathan Berkshire.  Very soon they discover a small “skeleton in the closet”, in the form of Lee’s ex girl friend, Holly Eames, who claims that Lee stalked her and her family when they ended the relationship.  Berkshire is ready for the challenge.  He says, “you can’t play the game, if you don’t play the game.

Pun Bandhu’s performance as Julius Lee is superb and flawless.  Robert Sicular in the role of Nathan Berkshire and Delia MacDougall as Holly Eames also give fantastic performance that lend authenticity and make the story of bizarre political motivations, believable.  Director Leslie Martinson has done a fantastic job and stage design by Erik Flatmo is superb.  Secret meetings take place at a restaurant in Baltimore, over soda and burgers, with Eames.  Berkshire and Lee meet at Lee’s trendy New York apartment to discuss the political alliances Lee should enter into and whether that decision should be based on his idealism or the opportunity it will afford the young candidate and to discuss the Eames issue.  Is Eames telling the truth or is she simply an opportunistic ex-girl friend, suffering from anxiety and dealing with a troubled marriage with a spouse having an affair?  Is Berkshire able to persuade Eames to remain reticent about her previous experiences or scare her by ferreting out her own secrets?  Or is her silence bought with a cost and how would that entangle the new candidate in a web of crafty maneuverings?

“Warrior Class” offers an opportunity for soul searching at a national level.  Jesus said, “only step forward and cast the first stone, if you have not sinned”.  But in politics, in the search for an ideal candidate, casting stones for all major and minor infractions of the candidate, is a game, freely engaged by all.  Does everyone have skeletons in the closet?  How far should they go to keep them there?  Does any candidate have a chance if they don’t play the game?  Indeed, a primary question posed in the play is, how does politics change a person, as it becomes apparent that as one plays the game and becomes bloody, one learns to play it better, more offensively, and with greater paranoia. 

The play is running at www.theatreworks.org till November 3, 2013.

"Superiority of the warrior class. State ...

“Superiority of the warrior class. State 2.” Etching by Wenceslaus Hollar, (University of Toronto) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Wild With Happy — Play Review


Deeply personal, hysterically funny, also sad, full of wit and humor, the play “Wild With Happy”, by nationally acclaimed, OBIE award-winning and Tony award-nominated, actor and playwright, Colman Domingo, opened at TheatreWorks, at the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts.  Domingo is a gifted actor and has previously played in various well known productions, including “The Scottsboro Boys” – http://bit.ly/KIBadN .  In “Wild With Happy”, he plays alongside Sharon Washington, who is superb in her duel role, and was nominated for an Outstanding Lead Actress, Lucille Lortel Award, for her performance as “Adelaide/ Aunt Glo.

English: American actor Colman Domingo at the ...

English: American actor Colman Domingo at the premiere of “Dreamgirls” in december 2006 at the Gotham Hall in New York taken by Maurice McRae. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Gil (Domingo) in his early forties, has returned from NYC, to his home in Philly, to make arrangements for the funeral of his mother, whom he calls “Adelaide”, to the disapproval of his “Aunt Glo” (both roles played by Washington).  He continues to have conversations with his mother, now dead, as he also remembers the earlier times he spent with her, like the time when she decided to join a church and told him, it was to “get us some Jesus”.  His mother says, “you are just like me, probably more me than me”.  (Isn’t that how it always turns out?)  She wants to call Oprah on his behalf, has dreams for him, and believes in magic and fairy tales.  She advises, he let go of the past and be open to love, even as he insists, he is a middle aged grown man with $80K in student loans that has yet to be paid back, and magic does not happen in real life.

Aunt Glo, mother’s twin, is a feisty, energetic, zany woman, who gulps down pills to manage her blood pressure, and insists that they have a funeral befitting the tradition, even as she is cleaning out her sister’s closet, for her shoes, dresses, scarves and jackets.  Gil prefers a quiet end to mark his mother’s passing away, and questions the need for ceremony.  Aunt Glo insists that “tradition has to be maintained”, “because that is what our people do”, “because we are common people”, and that after the limo, hearse, and procession, there should be a reception, so as to not “get talked about afterwards”.  She stands her ground, insisting that while her sister was nearing the end of her life, she was the one taking care of her “onliest sister”, as Gil who was pursuing his career in theater, was “missing in acting”.

Gil, meanwhile, discusses the funeral arrangements with the funeral director, Terry (superbly played by Richards Prioleau), who tries to sell the best package, while Gil insists that he is looking for “best on a budget”.  To great consternation of his Aunt Glo, Gil settles on cremation, and drives with the urn, with his friend Mo (Duane Boutte), followed in hot pursuit by his Aunt and Terry.  Gil and Mo have some conflict along the way, but finally they all end up in Florida, in Disney’s MagicKingdom, in the Cinderella Suite.  And magic happens as they make peace.  Even as Gil realizes he cannot escape from grief, that “grief becomes part of you that never goes away”, he also understands, “love is a story that never ends”, and he must “shake some fairy dust and keep on believing”.  And acknowledging that love is a journey, Aunt Glo also concedes that “love is not a box of cherries, nor a bowl of chocolates,” but is a “trip down the winding lane”.  Finally, Gil is not running away from, or running towards, not escaping neither chasing, anything.  “I want to just sit”, he says.

Director, Danny Scheie has done a fantastic job.  Great kudos to Scenic Designer, Erik Flatmo, Stage Manger, Karen Szpaller, and Assistant Stage Manager, Emily Anderson Wolf.  Absolutely loved the beautiful set of Cinderella suite that briefly seems to transport the audience to the magicality symbolized by Disney.  Great kudos to Casting Director Leslie Martinson, for excellent casting.  And Costume Designer, Brandin Baron did a splendid job in bringing out the personalities of Adelaide and Aunt Glo, as well as other characters.

The dialogues are funny, they make you laugh; they also made me cry.  I absolutely loved Sharon Washington who plays both distinct roles and a brief Cinderella role, with aplomb.  I highly recommend this brilliant performance and pick it as not-to-miss play of this season, in South Bay Area, CA.  For tickets, go to www.theatreworks.org .

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